The general perception that only expecting mothers or women planning pregnancy should quit alcohol to avoid health complications, has been busted. A recent study published in the journal ‘European Journal of Preventive Cardiology’, shed light on drinking patterns of aspiring parents and its impact on conception. “Binge drinking by would-be parents is high risk and dangerous behaviour that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect but also greatly damages their own health,” said study author Dr Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China.
Congenital heart diseases are the most common birth defects, with approximately 1.35 million babies affected every year. These conditions can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease later life, even after surgical treatment, and are the main cause of perinatal death.
Drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy or during the first trimester was associated with a 44 per cent raised risk of congenital heart disease for fathers and 16 per cent for mothers, compared to not drinking. Dr Qin said, “The results suggest that when couples are trying for a baby, men should not consume alcohol for at least six months before fertilisation, while women should stop alcohol one year before and avoid it while pregnant.”
Alcohol is a known teratogen and has been connected with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Around one in four children with FASD have congenital heart disease, indicating that alcohol might also be implicated in these disorders.
The researchers compiled the best data published between 1991 and 2019, which amounted to 55 studies including 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without. The analysis showed a nonlinear dose-response relationship between parental alcohol drinking and congenital heart diseases.
Dr Qin said, ‘We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased. The relationship was not statistically significant at the lower quantities.